The Split Gig and Learning to "Play Nice With Others"

As many people know who have seen me play, I am primarily a solo artist. For those of you that haven’t, it could be said that beside singing, I play all parts of “the band” in a kind of percussive, fingerstyle (i.e. without the use of guitar flat or finger picks) guitar accompaniment. That means my guitar playing necessarily includes percussion, rhythm and lead parts as a back up to my voice. In other words, as a performer and songwriter, I am generally, well, “self-contained” as it were. I rely solely on myself to provide what the song needs. Occasionally, however, when I play as part of an on-stage showcase, I can provide backup rhythm or lead guitar to another artist. It’s for this reason that I have had to suppress my regular inclination to be “the entire band” for another person’s song. 

The last gig I played was such a showcase in South Hadley, Massachusetts in the western part of the state at a coffeehouse and wine bar, loaded with bookshelves free for the reading, called the “Thirsty Mind”. I was playing with two other acoustic artists, Mike Orlen and Sheryl Stanton, in a “round robin” rotation. It became clear that when one of us were performing, the others (and the audience for well-known covers), were free to join in. I approach “joining in” process somewhat tentatively because I don’t want to be seen as “stepping on” another’s performance so as to be seen to be “playing nice with others”. Before joining in, I will just listen for the first verse and refrain, trying to (a) figure out the general chord structure of the song (e.g. I-IV-ii-V-I) and (b) what accompanying part I can and should provide. Sometimes, if I know the song, I’ll sing in impromptu harmony. Other times, I’ll just provide some small fingerstyle embellishment. The important thing to remember as a “supporting” artist is to be selective as to when to come in. In this regard, less is more. By doing so, you don’t become a musical distraction and make it clear to the audience that the primary performer is the one in control. It not only shows you’re tasteful in your supporting role, it makes it easier to correct yourself if you make a mistake in the music.
Because I try follow my own advice, I had a simply terrific time at the Thirsty Mind. The audience was friendly and enthusiastic and appreciative. All three of us performers had a great time and no one “stepped on” anyone else’s song. If discretion is the better part of valor, then “playing nice with others” is the credo for emerging artists playing in the round. I genuinely felt that the three of us playing together was greater than the sum of the parts playing alone. And this is primarily because each of us tacitly sought to fill a small portion of the song the lead performer was playing. It makes it more fun for the performer and great fun for the audience. What more could an emerging artist ask for?
Food for thought
Yours in DADGAD
Rick Gottlieb